It’s a travel nightmare scenario. You plan that dream backpacking trip through the Andes or a long-awaited getaway to see the Northern Lights — only to find that your passport is expiring and can’t be renewed in time.
Right now, the U.S. is seeing record renewal requests and massive wait times due to high demand after the pandemic. A State Department spokesperson revealed to PEOPLE that they’re receiving approximately 400,000 applications a week and they’ve had to take measures like authorizing overtime and increasing hiring in order to keep up.
The most common way to renew or replace a passport is going through the United States Postal Service (USPS). Right now, that means your new passport can take up to nine weeks to arrive — and that’s if you pay the $60 fee for their expedited service. The standard wait is now 10-13 weeks following changes from the State Department in March. Before the pandemic, the processing time for their expedited service was only two to three weeks, while the standard service was six to eight weeks.
So, what happens if you need your passport ASAP? Travel expert, writer and advisor Nicole Campoy Jackson of Fora Travel revealed some of her hacks to PEOPLE, including services likepassportsandvisas.com that can expedite your passport safely and reliably.
Similar to the USPS, this service works with passport agencies of the U.S. Department of State to “obtain your passport application in as little as 24 hours,” according to their website, and get it expedited in as quickly as three days.
“The process with an expediting agency is simple,” Campoy tells PEOPLE. “First, tell them when you’re traveling and what you need help with. Then, make an appointment, and they make sure all of the paperwork and everything is in order and send it off.”
Campoy adds that “you typically get your passport back in 48 hours,” and that she has always found these services to be “reliable and efficient.” She continues: “I recommend them all the time for people traveling soon who didn’t realize until down to the wire that their passport is expired.”
The travel advisor adds that it’s always a good idea — and far cheaper — to renew your passport the “old-fashioned way” if you have the time to do so, but these services are still a trustworthy option if you’re running out of time.
Make sure to ask a lot of questions, she warns, as some agencies will only work with travelers aged 16 and up, while others require a booked flight and travel itinerary to move forward with the process.
In terms of pricing for a passport renewal, passportsandvisas.com has services starting at $149 for their slowest option of 25 business days and $699 for their fastest, four business days. For a new passport application, the cheapest option guarantees it will arrive in 12 business days and costs $349. They also work with consulates to expedite visas quickly.
While the cost is high, Campoy says, a “premium and urgent service” like this is well worth the price.
“They’re where I turn first because they’re giving me time back as well as peace of mind,” she shares. “They explain everything you’ll need and double check your work so you avoid those awful hiccups of thinking you’d submitted it all only to find out that you’d missed a document and it’s delayed as a result.”
She adds, “They help circumnavigate the high possibility of user error in a stressful moment.”
Other options she recommends include Rush Passport, Visa Central and It’s Easy.
If the cost is too high and you’re looking for a cheaper alternative that is quicker than USPS, Campoy says you can try to make an appointment directly with the State Department to get an expired, lost or stolen passport renewed within 14 days.
“The caveat is that they are a busy agency, and appointments are often hard to secure,” she tells PEOPLE. “You may have to call a number of times to get a slot. You’ll also want to show up at least 30 minutes before your appointment time, if not more. Some locations can print your passport on-site, so if you can spend a few hours (if not the day) there, then that’s a less expensive option.”
In order to avoid the headache of last-minute passport renewals in the first place, Campoy says to check two things after you’ve booked your flight: your passport’s expiration date and whether you need a visa. Most countries require a passport to be valid for 3-6 months upon entry.
She adds, “When applying for a passport or sometimes renewing one, make sure you have copies of everything you’ll need including your birth certificate, Social Security card, and, if applicable, a marriage or divorce certificate.”